Portlandia and The Feminist Bookstore

I’ve never been to Portland, OR, but I have been around a hipster, which, if Portlandia is any indication, is pretty much the same thing. For those of you who haven’t heard of it Portlandia is a Peabody Award-winning satiric sketch comedy television series, which is set and filmed in Portland. It stars Saturday Night Live’s Fred Armisen and the lead guitarist and singer for indie rock/post-punk band Wild Flag Carrie Brownstein. The show has sprouted some phrases such as the famous “put a bird on it!” poking fun at people who slap a bird on a purse and call it art (I’m looking at you, Etsy),“Portland is where young people go to retire”, and my favorite “…plastic bags also cause pelican cancer”—which may be true, for all I know (save the pelicans, use reusable grocery bags!). Armisen and Brownstein play many different characters on the show, but the Feminist Bookstore Ladies are by far the funniest. While most of the other characters on the show are often silly right off the bat, Toni and Candace, the co-owners of the feminist bookstore “Women & Women First” are so straight faced it’s ridiculous. They are some of the most believable characters I’ve seen not only on the show, but in other shows as well. It truly shows their talent as comedic actors. These characters they are especially in sync.

The first skit these characters appear in is in season one, episode one. Not realizing that the bathroom is for paying customers only, a customer (Steve Buscemi) is forced to buy something while the two women continuously cause problems for him. It is delightfully awkward. This skit establishes the characters very well. Candace (Armisen) the older of the two women is a mild mother earth type, but is the first to threaten violence at the least provocation (a running gag has her pouring gas over everything when she is upset.) The younger woman Toni (Brownstein) is always the first to become offended and often twists around peoples; words to that affect. Her monotone voice and joyless outlook on life is especially hilarious. I always forget that its Brownstein when she is in that character, since it is so different compared to the others. She is by far my favorite of the two.

At first I was a bit miffed by this sketch. Feminism gets a bad rap as it is without this show seemingly mocking its more extreme members. However, after watching it again I understood what they were going for. Like in any group there are people whose radical ways tend to make the more sober members look bad. These two extreme ‘feminists’ have become so bound by their dogma that they start attacking other women who do not share their exact lifestyle or belief system. This is especially seen in some of their other sketches. They treated the women studies student who wore frayed shorts and attends a stripping class (for exercise) quite badly. They also made fun of her professor. Also Candace did a mock impression of her daughter Donna, which even Toni thought was uncalled for. It’s obvious that both Carrie Brownstein and Fred Armisen are feminists and these characters are meant to be tongue-in-cheek.

Overall, it’s a great show that everyone should be watching! Watch Portlandia Fridays at 10/9c on IFC, it’s also available on Netflix.